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State-Aid for Schooling in Post-War Australia Essay


The Australian constitution does not guarantee the Commonwealth power to support education programmes. As such, education policies and funding remained the sole responsibility of the states. However, the commonwealth, with its financial endowment started to provide aid to students, particularly in tertiary and university levels, especially after 1945 (Campbell & Proctor, 2014).

After the 1960s the commonwealth student funding was expanded to include students from all levels and social backgrounds in both the public and private sectors. By the end of the century, federal funding for students has increased by over 40%. Besides, the federal government dominant role in higher education and substantial influence in tertiary and vocational training institutions through funding increased considerably at the end of the century (Campbell & Proctor, 2014).

Historical Accounts

The need to improve education standards and the widespread call for students’ aid in both vocational and higher learning institutions prompted various governments to appoint committees with varied responsibilities to probe into the funding system of the tertiary and higher learning institutions and recommend for further actions (Campbell & Proctor, 2014).

The Menzies government in 1950 appointed the Mill’s committee to investigate and report on how the universities are funded. Mill’s committee recommended that the Commonwealth government should fund the recurrent expenditures of the institutions of higher learning. The recommendation was implemented through the state grants (university) acts of 1951 to 1957. In fact, under these amendments, the financial aid for higher learning institutions, based on student weighted average numbers, was provided to run their recurrent expenditures (Campbell & Proctor, 2014).

The Murray committee was appointed in 1956 by the same government to look into the continuing concerns of the institutions of higher learning. The Murray recommendations led to the formation of the Australian Universities Commission (AUC) with the sole responsibility of overseeing the distribution of grants to all institutions of higher learning (Barcan, A. (1980). As a result, the recurrent grants significantly increased, and the capital funding for all universities was introduced.

In 1961 under the request of the AUC, the Martins committee was established to look into the future of tertiary education in Australia. Martin’s committee was commissioned to study the patterns of tertiary education regarding their needs against available resources. The tertiary institutions ranged from universities to specialised institutions.

The specialist institutions included agricultural and pharmaceutical establishments. Besides, other tertiary institutions included the teacher training colleges and institutes of technology. Martin’s committee recommended increased funding for colleges. The committee also recommended the separation of the courses offered and standardisation of all the educational programmes. Even though most of the recommendations have not been implemented to date, the committee set a new stage for the state funding of tertiary institutions (Marginson, 1997).

The 1973 higher education agreements with states transferred the full financial responsibility from the state governments to the Commonwealth government under a specialised arrangement that did not violate the constitutional provisions. The commonwealth government’s triennial assistance to the tertiary institutions continued until 1977 when Fraser’s government formed the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) to advise the government on issues relating to tertiary education and financial assistance (Marginson, 1997). TEC was abolished in 1988 and replaced by the National Board of Employment, Education and Training (NBEET) with the responsibility of making annual recommendation for the grant allocations to tertiary institutions (Marginson, 1997).

The administration of grants gradually shifted from the statutory commissions to the ministerial departments. Even though the new system has been widely criticised, both the Labour and coalition governments have ensured that the requirements of higher education funding policy remain consistent with the overall social and economic objectives (Hughes & Brock, 2008). Even though constant changes occurred in the manner in which state and Commonwealth funding for tertiary education was undertaken, the amount for both the institutions and student direct grants increased considerably. The students’ grants for both the state and Commonwealth governments increased from $2.301 billion to $3.227 billion between the years 1963 to 1999.

Aboriginal Education

Both the state and federal governments have been directing considerable state-aid funding through various specific programmes in indigenous education. Despite the historical policies aimed at improving indigenous education, the education system for the aboriginal children are not improving as expected (Nichol, 2005). The gap that has always existed between the mainstream and the indigenous children has prompted various governments to increase funding and implement various policies aimed at improving the education standards of the aboriginal children through universal suffrage.

However, studies indicate that the Commonwealth policy directed towards improving the indigenous education over the last forty years has been a story of good intentions. In fact, the National Commission Audit noted that the education policies for indigenous children are flawed, poorly implemented and with unplanned consequences as well as dashed hopes for the recipients (McQueen, 2007). The commission recommended a considerable outline aimed at improving the effectiveness of aboriginal expenditure in education through the consolidation of programmes, redirecting the state funds for various programmes for indigenous education, reducing the gap as well as improving the accountability.

The recommendation led to the improvement of the overall expenditure for indigenous schools in the 2010-2011 financial years to about $44,128, which is twice the amount that has been spent on aboriginal schools in the last ten years. The allocation was majorly driven by the greater need to close the gap between the mainstream and the aboriginal education. The Council of Australian Governments (CAG) that was established in 2008 proposed certain measures that were aimed at reducing minimum education result among indigenous Australians. The framework resulted in the improvement of accessibility to early childhood education as well as writing and numeracy outcomes. However, language and related matters were not moving in the positive direction.

As a result, in 2010, indigenous education policy in all the state departments were synchronised with increased funding from the state and commonwealth governments. All these activities culminated into the aboriginal education action plan of 2010-2014 aimed at improving accessibility and improving education standard to all indigenous children and students at all levels. The action plan originating from the previous plans, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-2014 (ATSIEAP 2010-2011), primarily aimed at closing the gap in numeracy and languages.

Besides, in 2011, the Labour government appointed a review of indigenous higher education panel to look into the best ways of achieving parity for indigenous higher learning under the ATSIEAP 2010-2011. The review panel recommended increased funding for indigenous students in higher learning institutions and the formation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education and Research Strategy (ATSIHERS) to oversee the implementation of the recommendations aimed at improving the participation of indigenous students in higher education, employments as well as improving the cultural competence in higher learning institutions (Campbell & Proctor, 2014).

Non-Systematic Catholic and Catholic Schools

All the schools managed by the Catholic Education Office (CEO) are commonly known as the systematic schools while other schools managed by other religious institutions are known as the non-systematic schools. In fact, both the systematic and non-systematic schools are funded by both the state and federal governments. Both the Commonwealth and the state governments consider these schools as independent and receive state funds just like any other private institutions.

Moreover, the amounts both the governments have been directed towards these schools have tripled over the years (Sherington, Campbell, & Proctor, 2009). Currently, about 70% of the Schools’ budgets are funded by both the federal and state governments’ grant programmes. Even though there is variability on how the government have been funding these schools, the amount the governments have been spending on the schools programmes range between 70% and 80% in the recent years.

The extent to which the government has been funding these schools is progressive progressively despite the increasing number of enrolments. In fact, both the state and Commonwealth governments have been accused of slowly responding to the increasing number of enrolments in terms of the funds provided (Proctor, 2010). The result is the increase of fees on top of what the government provides. However, the studies indicate that the governments have been continuously, though slowly, increased funding for these schools under various programmes.

Migrant Education

Migrant education has increased considerably since 1945. In fact, by the mid seventies, the government came up with various education programmes that would ensure migrants together with their children is lawfully integrated within the economic and social welfare of the mainstream society. One of the programmes was the Australian Migrant Education Programme (AMEP).

The programme ensured that all the migrants received at least basic education necessary for their full integration. Through other programmes such as the Adult Migrant English Programmes (AMEP) and Child Migrant Education Programme (CMEP), both adults and migrant children received the language orientation that enabled them to pursue other education programmes as well become part of the larger society (Martin, 1998). All the migrant education programmes were fully funded by the state and federal governments.

Adult Migrant English Programmes (AMEP) has been providing English classes since 1948 particularly for qualified migrant adults. In fact, all eligible migrants are entitled to receive up to 510 hours English classes under the immigrant (education) act of 1971 (Martin, 1998). The education programmes are fully funded by the Commonwealth and state governments. Australian Migrant Education Programme (AMEP) fully funded by the state and federal governments also expanded their programmes to include Child Migrant Education Programme (CMEP). The CMEP ensured that all the migrant children receive basic education that would enable them to enter into mainstream education programmes (McQueen, 2007).

The Commonwealth and state funding for the immigrant education has increased over the years. Under the expanded AMEP programme the expenditure on immigrant education increased from $12 million to $72 million in a span of 20 years. The spending further increased to $98 million within ten years. The increase was also commensurate to the increase of supported immigrants. The spending was either made through the ESL tuition programmes or was directly given to the immigrants.

University Funding

The constitution guarantees the state governments exclusive responsibilities for funding and determining the education policies (Barcan, 1980). The Commonwealth, by extension, has been providing educational grants to students particularly, through the state governments. Over the years particularly, from 1946 to 2000, the Commonwealth has been offering grants to students using section (S.51xxiiA), which provides benefits to students. In fact, the amendment to the constitution was introduced in 1946 when there was a great need to increase funding for students in tertiary institutions and universities. The extent to which the Commonwealth can utilise the 1946 amendments to increase student’s grants in all education institutions across the country is a matter of debate to all successive governments (Campbell & Proctor, 2014).

However, the Commonwealth has been using section 96 of the constitution that allows the financial aid to state governments depending on the parliamentary approval. This section has all along been used by the Commonwealth to grant financial assistance to all educational programmes undertaken by the state governments (Barcan, 1980). Under this provision, the Commonwealth started granting financial aid to state universities in 1951, which culminated in the provision of the financial aid to all public and private universities in 1964. However, with the enactment of the Higher Education Funding Act (HEFA) in 1988, the Commonwealth has directly funded universities instead of using the states.

Therefore, most of the universities are state-owned and funded by the state through government grants and students’ fees (O’Brien, 1987). However, most of new developments and policies focusing on funding tertiary education emphasised on university education. In fact, almost all commissions established since 1946 focused their work on improving education at higher learning institutions. Both the federal and state governments’ educational grants have been awarded to the state universities either through school-based policies or direct students’ grants. Currently, about 40% of the federal budget is allocated to the university student grants. The universities are the educational institutions that have received the huge amount of both federal and state governments’ grants.


Barcan, A. (1980). A history of Australian education. Sydney: Oxford University Press Australia

Campbell, C. & Proctor, H. (2014). A history of Australian schooling. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Hughes, J. & Brock, P. (2008). Reform and resistance in NSW public education. Sydney: NSW Department of Education and Training.

Marginson, S. (1997). Educating Australia: government, economy and citisen since 1960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Martin, S. (1998). New life, new language: the history of the adult migrant English programme. Canberra: National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research.

McQueen, K. (2007). Creating a teaching underclass. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Nichol, R. (2005), Aboriginal education in New South Wales: nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Sydney: NSW Department of Education and Training.

O’Brien, J. (1987). A divided unity. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Proctor, H. (2010). The good mother and the high school: A view from the twentieth century. In S. Goodwin & K. Huppatz (Ed.), The good mother: contemporary motherhoods in Australia (pp.11-34). Sydney: University of Sydney Press.

Sherington, G., Campbell, C., & Proctor, H. (2009). School choice: How parents negotiate the new school markets in Australia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'State-Aid for Schooling in Post-War Australia'. 7 July.

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